Who Invented the Term “Search Engine Optimization”? Part Deux

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Who Invented the Term “Search Engine Optimization”?  Part Deux

I created an entry for “Bruce Clay” at Wikipedia for the group of articles called “Famous SEOs” which are listed at the entry for “Search Engine Optimization

 One of the things that come to mind when talking about Bruce is the fact, correction, assumption that he coined the phrase “Search Engine Optimization” to describe to other people what he was doing.

 That was at a time when there was no SEO industry as it is today.


Since you can not simply make bold statements about somebody at Wikipedia without referencing to a reliable source that confirms it. Sooner or later must the statement be removed.

 A fellow Wikipedian with the name Jonathan Hochman aka Jehochman did it this weekend actually. He is one of the active editors I do work together on the SEO entry, among others like Bill Slawsky from SEO by the Sea.


We started a discussion and got Bruce Clay himself to provide some information to this matter. He provided some tips to what to look for and I started some researching.

 Bruce said that Danny Sullivan declared at one time that Bruce invented the term, but I can’t find any reference for it.


The “hunt” for the origin of the term was once on in 2004 already. I found this old thread at the Search Engine Watch Forums titled: Who Invented the Term “Search Engine Optimization”?

Danny did some research back them and provided some good material. Bruce was mentioned in this set of researched data, but the thread ended without a conclusion or announcement.

If any of you know the reference where the announcement was made, please add a comment to this post with the URL to it.

Some people back them thought that Danny, “the Father of SEO” coined the term, but Danny himself stated that this is not the case and also seasoned veterans vehement refused that as this old Webmaster World thread shows.


No way! We were calling it SEO in early ’97, and that was before Danny was on the radar….
Danny was the first to publicly write about it though…

During my trip back in time did I dig up some other old stuff that is very interesting and probably forgotten by most people.

For example, did you know that before Search Engine Optimization became the official term, other terms were used as well. Here are some examples:

  • website promotion
  • search engine placement
  • Search Engine Ranking
  • search engine submission
  • search engine registration
  • search engine positioning

And did you know that Mr.Sullivan himself was promoting a change of the name SEO to SEM (Search Engine Marketing)?

He published in his eZine “THE SEARCH ENGINE REPORT Vol. 60” from November 5, 2001 the article titled “Congratulations! You’re A Search Engine Marketer!.”

The Article suggested the name change because of the results of a poll on the I-Search mailing list in September 2001 where various terms were suggested to the readers with the request to pick their favorite term.

The link to the complete survey results does unfortunately not work anymore, but the top two are mentioned in the article itself.

*”search engine marketing” 39%
*”search engine optimization” 35%

He reinforced his suggestion with the article “Search Engine Marketing: You Like It, You Really Like It” from December 3, 2001 where he argued why other terms do not fit the description of what he and other marketers were doing. Very interesting.

As we all know today, the Term Search Engine Optimization is still in use and here to stay for a while longer. Search Engine Marketing is also used but is more associated with Paid Search. The two terms co-exist peacefully today and I have not heart about another attempt to change the Term Search Engine Optimization to something else.

Its funny how you can dig up old stories like this one when you do a little research for a Wikipedia entry. Keep in mind that Wikipedia is a place where anybody who wants to contribute is welcome to do so.

Search Engine Optimization and Marketing are areas at Wikipeda that are still weak. Look at articles under the Category “Search Engine Optimization”.

That’s all there is today. Feel free to hop over and add some content. Every commercial topic is “Hot” at Wikipedia due to Spam. I advice you to create an Account first and not edit those articles anonymously.

Adding an external link to an article is also no contribution. Wikipedia is not a Web Directory. Take the time to read some of the guidelines or ask other editors. Having a look at the “Talk Page” of an article (every page has one) is always a good idea to find out what’s going on. Thank you.

Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over 7 years experience in Web Development and 20 years in programming and computers in general. He has a personal Internet Marketing Resources site at which also includes Search Engine Optimization Resources.

Carsten Cumbrowski

Carsten Cumbrowski

Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and ... [Read full bio]